Winter hadn't even officially started yet, but mid-December saw a few rather serious snow days that quickly turned Amsterdam Airport Schiphol into a real Winter Wonderland. It was the first time this 'season' that our snow squad had to be called into action, and they were thrown right into the deep end. But how exactly do they deal with such heavy snowfall? We asked snow leader George Mensonides.
It always starts with the weather forecast, of course. Four days before the snow had started, the back and forth with meteorologists had already begun in earnest. Snow at Schiphol already seemed to be a certainty, which meant extra staff would have to be arranged. 'Usually, there are about 20 people at work on airside at any given time, like marshallers and airside support employees', George says. 'However, we need about five times that number on a snowy day.'
And then the first snow began to fall. And fall it did. 'Due to the heavy snowfall, we decided to create a "miniature airport"', says George. 'Meaning we only used a single runway for take-off and landing – Runway 18C-36C'. The snow squads were responsible for clearing snow from the runway and spraying it with an anti-freeze liquid. Besides the runway, the aircraft stands and runway exits had to be cleared as well. The airside flow manager then uses a special surface roughness test to check whether the runway can be used again. 'A light dusting of snow isn't such a big problem, but it's important to check whether the runway surface is rough enough to keep the aircraft from sliding.'
Days like these are hard work for the snow squad. George: 'If the snow keeps coming – as it did back then in December – then we have to keep sweeping and clearing it away. That way, if the snow dies down a little, we'll be ready for a few aircraft to take off or land right away. And that's our goal, to keep Schiphol going.' For the snow squad, that means eight-hour days of driving the snow trucks. 'We had one short 10-minute break before we had to get back out there.' These are some true diehards!
This report was first published in the January issue of AIRePORT.